If you’ve been following along, you know we are beyond excited about June being Adopt a Cat month. As veteran “cat people”, we know that adopting a cat often comes with the need to integrate your new pet into an existing menagerie. Today we’re expanding on our last post with specific information bringing a cat into more complex households.
Protect your existing pets and children. A new cat may look perfectly healthy while carrying viruses, bacteria, and parasites that can spread to other members of the house. Often older cats already in the home are more severely affected by these infections. Make sure that all pets in the household are up to date on all their vaccines and on a parasite preventative for fleas and intestinal parasites, even if they are indoor-only. Check what vaccines your new pet has received, and which still need to be boostered (see our previous post for more details). Finally, set up a quarantine area for your new pet to spend the first week or two. This will give you time to make sure he is not showing any signs of obvious illness, and get him in for his first checkup, where an intestinal parasite screening, infectious disease test, and vaccine status can be assessed.
Quarantine your new cat. This may sound extreme, but it is important and serves two purposes: (1) It gives you time to make sure she wasn’t exposed to anything before coming to your house that may be contagious, and (2) it gives your new and existing pets a chance to slowly adjust to each other’s presence before coming into direct contact. A quarantine area should be completely separate from any other pets, so that they cannot interact in any way.
Create a calm and safe environment. Set your existing and new pets up for success by creating an ideal living situation. Cats, by nature, are solitary predators, meaning they like to maintain their own territory free of other felines. Some cats will ultimately decide that overlapping or sharing territories are OK, but making it easy for your cats to have separate territories will minimize the drama of integration.
For a territory to be complete, cats need a food source, water source, litter option(s), safe resting place, and hiding spot, not to mention affection. This means that for each cat in the house, there should be separate areas for food and water, litter, and resting / hiding. For litter boxes, the rule of thumb is one box per cat, plus an extra one to be safe, in different areas of the home. Ultimately this number may able to be reduced, but starting off on the right paw here is well worth the effort. Think of this in terms of your own home – if you had the choice of a bathroom of your own vs. sharing one in your neighbor’s house, it would be an easy decision!
You can help this territory issue further by using synthetic pheromones (chemical signals cats use to communicate). Feliway is a synthetic version of the marking hormone cats use to claim their territory, and comes in scentless diffusers that you can use throughout the house to help the whole area feel more homey to cats.
There are also safe anti-anxiety supplements that can help cats handle periods of increased stress. These are tasty powders that can be mixed directly into your pets’ food and have no side effects. Give us a call if you think this may help your cat (spoiler: they help most cats!) and we can provide the correct dose for your cat(s).
Go slow and steady on introductions. Let your pets get to know each other slowly. Try feeding them on opposite sides of a door (put the food a few feet from the door to start, then get it a bit closer over a couple days). Try putting a toy under a door that each cat can play with, encouraging them to play with each other without seeing each other. Finally, try letting them see each other without being able to reach each other (a screen door, tall baby gates, or pet gates work well for this). Step up these interactions over several days, before finally letting the cats have free access to each other. This lets each cat be fully aware of the roommate situation and adjust to it in a safe and controlled manner. Once you do let them have direct access to each other, be prepared for a few small spats to happen. As long as each cat has a unique territory (see above), they should be able to retreat to their own area as needed. Keeping the quarantine area available to your new cat for several days after the introduction is a good idea. If the spats aren’t small and quickly over, reassess the setup and give us a call for advice.
Don’t be afraid to backtrack! If you’ve moved forward with the introduction and things aren’t going well, you can always go back a few steps, or start from scratch. Getting the initial introduction right will make the rest of your cats’ lives more enjoyable, so it’s worth the initial investment of time and energy.
Let us know how it’s going. We know the roller coaster of adopting a new cat well, and the rewards after the integration is complete. If the above tips aren’t working or you have specific concerns, we’re here to help.